Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Friday, June 24, 2011

Medieval Doctors

On special occasions, guests at the Ozark Sept6 (45)Medieval Fortress have enjoyed  presentations about Medieval health care.  Sometimes guests have asked about Medieval doctors and health care at the Good Wife’s area where she talks about healing herbs. 

People of the Middle Ages were very much aware of the value of the healing herbs.  On tour, this is explained by the Good Wife with details about the different plants and how they were used. One of the three major purposes of the garden itself is the growing of medicinal herbs.  (The other two are food and dyes).  In addition to the general common knowledge of herbs, the village Good Wife was available for consultation, as were physicians.  There were also “specialists” like midwives to deliver babies, barbers to bleed patients, blacksmiths to pull teeth and monks to determine if the problem was natural or a punishment from God. 

Sept6 (50)In the 13th Century, a trained physician was rare and respected.  In Northern Europe there were only two medical schools: one at Paris and another at Montpelier.  Those schools called for eight years of coursework and an additional year with an experienced doctor.  A doctor’s license would only then be issued and it was done in church in the name of the Pope.  Although in the modern day, the Christian church and physicians reject them,  medicine in the Middle Ages consisted of aspects of astrology, numerology and the consideration of the body‘s “humors”, which were phlegm, blood, bile and black bile. 

On the other hand, what we would consider modern medicine was beginning.  In the Medieval, hospitals began to appear and were supported by wealthy sponsors.  Although bacteria was not understood, there was the beginning of the concept of isolation of the sick.  There were several thousand leper colonies in France alone.  Doctors advised that war wounds be washed in a boiled, salty herbal tea, which meant that without knowing it, they had sterilized the medicine.  They also advised using honey on the wound to assist in healing, which we now know has antibacterial properties.  Garlic was prescribed to help with the black bile humor, which we know now to be antibiotic.

However, doctors thought that bleeding a patient or the use of leaches was beneficial.  This was commonly done by barbers as well. Doctors were at great risk of contamination from their patients.  It was June24 (22)a common medical practice for a doctor to taste a patient’s urine to determine the sugar content. Yuck!

Health care is talked about a lot today, but no matter what the problems that we have, it is worthwhile to remember the benefits we enjoy compared to the people of the Middle Ages.  We have a good blacksmith at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, but I have to say there is no way I would want him to use those tongs on one of my teeth!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Medieval Wheelbarrows and Handcarts

It is common for guests on tour at the Ozark March30 (16)Medieval Fortress to see several kinds of wheelbarrows and hand carts.  They often ask if the modern type of single-wheeled barrow is authentic.  There seems to be no question for them that the two wheeled hand cart dates back to the Medieval.  Actually, they both do. 

Barrows with one wheel go back to ancient China, but the wheel was in the middle, front to back, as opposed to left to right.  Europeans, especially France, England and Flanders, improved on the design by putting the single June8 (26)wheel in the very front.  This is the design of wheelbarrows today.  It is certainly practical and well balanced and allows a single person to move a lot more bulk and weight than by hand.  There are references to these kinds of wheelbarrows in the early 13th century (the period of the Ozark Medieval Fortress).

Wheelbarrows with one wheel were called “civeria rotalis”.  The wheelbarrows sometimes had nails with large heads driven in the wooden wheel to avoid excessive wear.  Sometimes the wheel was given an iron band, or tire, like a wagon wheel.  May25 (5)

Barrowmen also used what we would call “stretchers”, which had no wheels and took two or four men to carry.  In the Middle Ages these were called “baring-barwes”.  Wheelbarrows freed up one or three men for other jobs on the site.  The experience of the masons at the Ozark Medieval Fortress has been that the wheelbarrow has not been suitable for the heavy loads of stone, and they have, therefore, preferred the stouter two wheeled cart or the baring-brawe.  The carpenters and garden workers, on the other hand, with lighter loads and often working alone have preferred the wheelbarrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Medieval Squires

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress many guests who haMay31Too (12)ve an interest in knights have also  asked what exactly was a squire.  The short answer is that a squire in the Middle Ages was a necessary middle step between a page (who was a boy) and a knight (who was a fully trained master in the skills of  war).  It was generally from the time that they were between the ages of 12 to 14 and age 21.

The word “squire” comes from the French “escuyer” or “esquire”, meaning “shield bearer”.   July3 (27)That idea goes back to the Old Testament and the ancient world.  By the 1700’s in England it came to mean a country gentleman and in the United States is was a title for the Justice of the Peace. 

A squire’s duties included care of the armor, helping the knight don his armor, attending the knight at table, taking care of the knight’s horses and related equipment, keeping the knight’s clothes in good repair, running errands of whatever nature ordered by the knight, accompanying his knight throughout all the dangers of combat and serving as night guard.  His training included all aspects of knighthood.  Besides the obvious military June9 (13)skills of the knight, he also was expected to learn character and chivalry, heraldry, court etiquette, and even dancing.  These skills were learned by watching the knight and practicing with other squires and his knight.  Imagine all the skills when we are talking about everything from siege engines and horsemanship to the game of chess and how to appropriately address a lady. 

In addition to all the learning and work in serving his knight, the squire had to find time to make his own chain mail and weapons.  June9 (10)Not to mention find time to sleep!

It is worthwhile to remember that the castle, besides being the residence of the knight/lord and haven for the vassals was also a school for knights.  The squire learned the use of the sword, ax, mace, lance and dagger.  It is also important to remember that the squire was not just the teenager in the background, but rather was in as much danger during the battle as the knight.  At a mid-sized castle such as the Ozark Medieval Fortress, squires would be considered a valuable asset.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Medieval Horses

Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have often asked what kind of horse we use and whether it is authentic to the Middle Ages.  Sept20 (14)The horse, named “Honey”, that they are referring to is a Belgian draft horse.  The short answer is that this is probably the most authentic Medieval horse that we could possibly have. 

Logically, the Belgian draft horse originated in Belgium.  It has become the most popular breed of draft horse in the United States and their breed association credibly asserts that the Belgian is the most direct descendant of the Medieval “Great Horse” of the knights.  When talking about horses of the Middle Ages, it is difficult because today we have common terms of specific breeds, but then they did not sort horses by breeds.  Instead, they described different groups of horses by use or purpose.  The “Great Horse” or “charger” or in the French, “destrier” was a war horse.  Riding horses were called “palfreys”.  They also had “cart” horses and “pack” horses. 

Some historians claim that the Spanish Andalusian is more like a war horse than any other modern breed.  Maybe this is true, because there are references to knights in July14 (101)battle remounting their horse.  That would be difficult to do on a tall, Belgian draft horse, but it was an advantage in battle to be on a taller, stronger horse.  Although not the fastest, the Belgian is tall and strong and we know was available to the people of the Middle Ages, whether a knight, squire to carry the knight’s gear, or a noble for transportation, agriculture or construction like at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  Remember, also, there were innovations during the Middle Ages that included the nailed horse shoe, improved saddles, stirrups and the horse collar.

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, Honey is a part of the construction team.  She hauls the sand, lime, rocks and logs to the castle.  She grades the trail for the guests.  She hauls the feed for the other animals.  She is also part of the presentation of the historical Medieval era to the guests, who enjoy meeting her.  She definitely earns her keep.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Medieval Tournaments of Knights

On tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress we see a billboard Knightsdepicting tournaments painted by Solange Mirat, one of the founding partners.  This prompts a discussion of knights’ tournaments in the Middle Ages.  In addition, guests have been treated to demonstrations of tournament skills at the castle.  I like to point out that there were no tournaments in the low Middle Ages, although there was still trial by combat. 

The first tournaments were actually unregulated melees of a mob of knights fighting June9 (16)across fields and into villages, sometimes killing serfs that got in the way and doing injury that started blood feuds.  One of the first such melees was in 843 at Worms, Germany.  These were seen as training for the knights.  That concept was not new, the Romans had military games and, of course, everyone knows about the Roman chariot races. 

Tournaments became regulated by the 11th century.  They were big events and very popular with the knights and with the people.  June9 (15)They held at any time during the year except during Lent.  Even from the beginning, they were not considered proper to be held on a Friday or Sunday for religious reasons.  In 1130, however, tournaments had a setback when Pope Innocent II forbade Christian burial for anyone killed in a tournament.  Richard the Lionheart encouraged tournaments in England, but Louis IX (King of France during Ozark Medieval Fortress historical dates) outlawed tournaments in France after 1260. 

In the meantime, tournaments during our historical time are at their peak.  Volunteers expert at knightly skills have displayed them at the Ozark Medieval Fortress on numerous occasions.  The most recent demonstration has been of sword-and-shield tournament combat on foot.  I was first impressed with the discomfort and weight of the knights’ gear, but after seeing the combat, the physical effort amazed me.  And this, even though it was in fun.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Medieval Dancing

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the main focus is on the Medieval Dancing5work of building a castle, but many guests ask also about leisure time in the Medieval and if there was any.  There is no question that the people worked hard like we picture our American colonists.  People who work hard also know how to take a little time to relax.  Dancing and socializing were a part of that leisure time in the Middle Ages. 

We have to remember, however, that the customs were strict and regulated for young people on everything.  A boy could not casually take a girl’s hand or touch her elbow.  Unmarried young people were chaperoned.  Communities were small and everyone knew each other.  Reputations were valued.  But dancing was an acceptable chance to hold hands, socialize and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company.  Much more enjoyable than seeing each other at church mass or across the fields at work.  Unlike the free-form dancing by separate couples of today, dancing in the Middle Ages was more structured and done in a group.

There were no nightclubs.  Although the local lord could call an impromptu special Medieval Dancing2occasion or a group of common people could gather at a road crossing, the most typical place for dances was at fairs.  In London, for example, four fairs were held every year.  They were on the anniversary of the ordination of the Blessed Ambrose, the feast of the Blessed Lawrence, on the Ascension of the Blessed Mary, Mother of God and on the feast of the Blessed Bartholomew.  From this list it is pretty obvious that the Church was a big influence and presence at the festivals and fairs. 

Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have been able to see and participate in an excellent demonstration of Medieval and Renaissance dancing by the Dance Club from the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, Arkansas.  What I noticed during the dancing was that our guests smiled and laughed as much as the dancers.  It is easy to see why the fairs with the music and dancing were a highlight of Medieval life.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Medieval Horse Collar

Another authentic aspect of the Ozark Medieval May22 (9)Fortress is the use of work horses in castle construction.  The horse collar was an important invention in the Middle Ages.  Before that, the harness just had a strap under the horse’s throat that could choke them.  The collar rests on their strong shoulders and lets them pull much better.  Most guests are familiar with the horse collar of today even if it is just because of the Budweiser Clydesdale horses and wagon. 

A lot of guests, however, are from the city and have never seen a draft horse in harness up close.  It is a good opportunity when visiting the Ozark Medieval Fortress to take the time to check out the Belgian draft horse named “Honey”.  Many people, even from the county, are so excited to meet the horse, they forget to take time to notice the harness.  This is especially so if she is working and away from the stable where the antique horse collars are on display.

The collar in daily use at the castle is the type that has been in use since the American colonial days.  It is a leather collar that has been stuffed with straw or wood shavings.  It has shaped hames, which are metal brackets that are strapped May22 (3)around her neck in a groove in the collar.  Some old harnesses have wooden hames but in America they have always been separate from the collar.

In the Medieval, the early horse collars were a single big piece that included the collar and surrounding hames.  In order to get past the horse’s head, they have to open.  The modern collar is flexible enough that because it opens on the top it can be slipped in place.  The Medieval collar was much stiffer and although the hames opened, the collar had to be more closely fitted to the horse.  The modern hames are connected at the top and bottom with leather straps.  The Medieval hames and collar May22 (5)have a blacksmith-made pin on one side and ring to receive the pin on the other.  After the pin is in the ring, a piece of leather was run through a hole in the end of the pin to hold it in place.  On a modern harness, the heavy pulling tug or trace lines are attached to the hames with a metal pin.  On the Medieval collar, these lines are attached to a blacksmith-made pigtail or ring secured to the collar with large wooden pins.

I encourage all visitors to the Ozark Medieval Fortress to take their time and see all there is available.  That includes the display of antique horse collars at the Stable.